I started paying attention to politics sometime in the 1950’s. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson ran against each other in the 1952 and 1956 elections, and I remember my father saying that the country couldn’t go wrong with two such outstanding candidates. I think it was a more civil era. The major parties clashed, but their exchanges weren’t automatically marked by hatred. And there were some Republicans who actually seemed of sound mind, e.g., Nelson Rockefeller, Tom Dewey.
Current politics are a different kettle of fish. I can’t remember anything quite like it. It’s some complex product of severe economic strain, gullibility of the American public, media celebrity, the Internet, extremist interest groups, and evangelical fervor. Anyway, the contenders lining up against Barack Obama for 2012 are a once-in-a-lifetime lot. A recent CNN poll found that the favorites, in order of popularity among likely Republican voters, are Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Michele Bachmann. Collectively, they would make a terrific sitcom cast or perhaps an amusing group of castaways on Survivor. Here’s what strikes my eye.
(1) Mike Huckabee. We’ve watched Mike Huckabee a couple of times on John Stewart’s Daily Show where he comes across as personable and funny. Given that the Republican Party’s base is predominantly white, Southern, and evangelical Christian these days, Huckabee, a three-term former governor of Arkansas and Fox News talk show host, is a natural. A graduate of Ouachita Baptist University, Huckabee was a popular Southern Baptist minister before entering politics. He states that it is impossible to separate religion from politics, has billed himself “a Christian leader,” believes “all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy,” and has said, “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.” In the 2008 campaign he credited his improving poll numbers to divine intervention: “There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one.” Huckabee strongly opposes abortion, stem cell research, gun control, and federal funding for AIDS research. He favors the death penalty (why do all these pro-life people like the death penalty?), displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools, teaching creationism in biology classes, and increasing defense spending by fifty percent. Huckabee stated in 1992, “I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle.” He has described Wal-Mart as epitomizing “the genius of the American marketplace,” and he informed an NRA group, “I am pretty sure that there is duck-hunting in heaven.” Huckabee seems to have lined up God on his side which is a big plus.
(2) The Donald. Real estate mogul Donald Trump is the richest of all the rich Republican candidates (worth roughly $3 billion), has the most unique hair style (a double combover), and is best-known to the public as the host of his own reality TV show, The Apprentice. Trump actually began his real estate career in Cincinnati where he accomplished his first multi-million dollar deal with the Swifton Village apartment complex in Bond Hill. Trump now seems to own most of the prime real estate in New York City – e.g., Trump Tower, the Trump World Tower, Trump Park Avenue, the Trump International Tower, the Trump Building on Wall Street, etc. – along with multiple casino resorts, world class golf courses, luxury hotels, etc. He is ready to shell out $600 million of his own cash for his campaign: “I mean, part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” Trump describes himself as a business conservative. His recent policy statements have been anti-abortion, anti same-sex marriage, anti-gun control, anti-foreign aid, anti-China, and anti-engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. He didn’t vote in a single primary election from 1989 to 2010. He claims that Barack Obama will be known as the worst president in U.S. history, and, until recently, he has based his campaign on the totally vacuous conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. This may be what prompted SNL comedian Seth Myers to comment, “Donald Trump has said he’s running for president as a Republican — which is surprising because I thought he was running as a joke. “
(3) Sarah (Mama Grizzly) Palin. Given several years of media exposure, we know Sarah Palin best. She was nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda” on her high school basketball team, won the Miss Wasilla beauty pageant and came in second for Miss Alaska, went to six colleges, worked as a TV sportscaster, became mayor of Wasilla by a margin of 651 to 440 votes, was elected as Alaska’s youngest and first woman governor at 42, and then ran as McCain’s V.P. candidate. Having lost, Palin quit her job as Alaska’s governor, purportedly to make a fortune on the book/lecture circuit and prepare for her presidential run. She sold two million copies of Going Rogue and has made $12 million since leaving office. Like Huckabee and Gingrich, she is a Fox News commentator. A darling of the Tea Party movement, Palin opposes Obama’s health care reforms; opposes same-sex marriage, stem cell research, and abortion; supports abstinence education; is a lifetime member of the NRA, hunts moose, and opposes banning assault weapons; supports teaching creationism in the public schools; supports off-shore drilling; and is skeptical about causes of global warming. Some commentators speculate that Sarah Palin is on her way out, as her presidential poll numbers shrink, her Fox ratings slip, and her media profile wanes. However, we think it wise to keep in mind Palin’s observation that “the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick.”
(4) Newt Gingrich. Remember Newt? He was Speaker of the House in the late 1990’s, having co-authored the “Contract With America” and led the 1994 Republican Revolution which ended 40 years of Democratic party dominance in Congress. Gingrich’s platform was a precursor of today’s Tea Party ideology. A historian, ex-college professor, and prolific author, Gingrich was the most visible Republican voice opposing President Bill Clinton. Having led the Republican impeachment of Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair, Gingrich was done in by his own checkered past. At age 19 he married his high school geometry teacher. He left her 18 years later during an affair with another woman because she “wasn’t young enough or pretty enough to be the president’s wife,” visiting her in the hospital after her cancer surgery to discuss details of their lop-sided divorce. In the mid-90’s Gingrich began an affair with a White House staffer in her twenties and phoned his second wife on Mother’s Day to announce he was divorcing her. He then remarried again. Gingrich’s public explanation for his infidelities was that he was “partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country…” When the Republicans experienced the worst results in the 1998 midterm elections of any party in 64 years, polls indicated that Gingrich was widely unpopular because of his efforts to remove Clinton from office. Gingrich promptly resigned as Speaker, then resigned his seat in the House. He commented, "I'm willing to lead but I'm not willing to preside over people who are cannibals.” Apparently memories fade after 13 years of political exile, and Newt is ready to make his comeback.
(5) Mitt Romney.
George Romney was Governor of Michigan during much of our Ann Arbor graduate school days, and we always considered him very handsome and presidential looking. Now his son, Mitt, is the handsomest and most presidential looking of the Republican male candidates. A devoted Mormon, Romney received his B.A. from BYU and served as a Mormon missionary in France. His most important accomplishment at Governor of Massachusetts was to institute the universal health insurance plan that served as a model for the Obama administration. Romney has received severe criticism for being a flip-flopper. He registered as an Independent and voted in Democratic primaries up till his 1994 Senate campaign, expressed support for abortion rights and gay rights early in his political career, urged environmental protection, and favored tolerance on social issues. In the course of becoming a candidate for the 2008 presidential primaries, Romney shifted to more traditionally conservative views, becoming anti-abortion, withdrawing support for aspects of stem cell research, and discovering newfound enthusiasm for hunting and the NRA. He talks as little as possible about health care in Massachusetts. In response, many Republicans and others accused Romney of not having any core principles. One journalist wrote that Romney "came off as a phony, even when he was perfectly sincere.” Romney himself has said, "If you're looking for someone who's never changed any positions on any policies, then I'm not your guy." According to Donald Trump, Romney "doesn't seem to resonate."
(6) Ron Paul. If you’re seeking a super-maxi-alternative candidate, Ron Paul is your man. He’s an M.D. and has been a Republican congressman from Texas off and on since 1976. Paul’s not really a Republican. He’s a Libertarian, and, as such, he has clashed regularly with leaders of both parties. Perhaps his most notable achievement is that he has the most extreme conservative voting record of any of the 3,320 congressmen since 1937. He’s been called the “intellectual grandfather” of the Tea Party movement, and his nickname on the House floor is “Dr. No.” He opposes just about everything: membership in the U.N., membership in NATO, any kind of foreign intervention, federal involvement in health care, any proposal for new government spending or taxes. Paul has attempted through legislation to negate Roe vs. Wade, advocates terminating nearly all federal agencies, and has expressed a critical view toward the Civil Rights Act of 1964, arguing that it infringes on individual liberty. One of Paul’s newsletters to constituents, written in the first person, stated, “Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-communist philanderer Martin Luther King.” Another Paul newsletter said, “Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.” Paul does favor legalization of heroin and cocaine, which helps account for 500 college campuses having “Ron Paul for President” groups in 2008. He won recent Republican presidential straw polls by the Tea Party Summit and by the Conservative Political Action Conference and came in second to Mitt Romney in the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.
(7) Michele Bachmann. Most people think Michele Bachmann is completely out of her mind, but others aren’t totally convinced. She is in her third term as a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota and leads the Tea Party Caucus. She earned her law degree at the Bible-based Coburn School of Law, an affiliate of Oral Roberts University. Though she grew up in a Democratic family, a passage in a Gore Vidal novel that she read as a college student offended her, and she decided she must be a Republican. She served in the state senate in Minnesota, but “God then called me to run for the United State Congress…and we took 3 days and we fasted and we prayed and…he made that calling sure.” Bachmann seeks privatization of Social Security, favors retaining a nuclear strike option toward Iran, is a long-time opponent of legal abortion, and, ever since her 23 foster children entered public school, supports teaching intelligent design. She’s been particularly vocal in her efforts to ban same-sex marriages or civil unions, believing that LGBT people suffer from “sexual identity disorders” and that referring to homosexuals as “gay” is “part of Satan.” Bill Maher summed it up: "Michele Bachmann threw her hat into the ring. We think she's going to be running for president. For those who find Sarah Palin too intellectual. Michele Bachman for President. As a comedian, all I can say is, where can I donate to this cause?"
There are some lesser known possibilities too: John Huntsman, Obama’s ambassador to China; Tim Pawlenty, former Minnesota Governor; Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana; Herman Cain, Godfather Pizza magnate; Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico; Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania; and some non-running but often-mentioned figures: Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, Bobby Jindall, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie. A couple of these politicians are actually a little more centrist than the frontrunners. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, but it promises to be a tumultuous political season.
[Sources include: wikipedia.org; nytimes.com; sourcewatch.org; huffingtonpost.com; cbsnews.com; thedailybeast.com; politifact.com; dickipedia.org; dailykos.com; salon.com; usnews.com; candidates’ web-sites; and miscellaneous other websites]
-JML (5-10): These guys plus Obama nailing Osama.....I'm feeling much better about 2012